Thomas Tuchel said Chelsea must find a solution to N’Golo Kante’s fitness struggles after the Blues came from a goal down to draw 1-1 with Leicester City.
Marcos Alonso volleyed home to cancel out James Maddison’s opener in front of Todd Boehly, part of a consortium looking to take ownership of the club, with the Blues all but securing a third-place finish in the Premier League despite having won just one of their last five league games (three draws, one loss).
Tuchel’s men have now drawn 11 league games during a frustrating season, more than they have managed in a single campaign since recording 10 stalemates when finishing 10th in 2015-16.
World Cup winner Kante played the first 72 minutes against his former club before being replaced by Ruben Loftus-Cheek, but has been linked with a move away with his Stamford Bridge contract due to expire in 2023.
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) May 19, 2022
The 31-year-old has only started 20 of the Blues’ 37 league games this term, featuring for a total of just 1,688 minutes in the Premier League and missing out entirely on 12 of the team’s league fixtures.
Speaking in his post-match press conference, Tuchel said the midfielder was Chelsea’s “key player”, stressing the need to resolve his fitness issues.
Tuchel also likened Kante to the players such as Mohammed Salah, Kylian Mbappe and several other world stars, claiming he lifts the rest of the side when fit.
“I think he is our key, key, key player, but key, key, key players need to be on the pitch. He plays only 40 per cent of the games, so then it is maybe a miracle that we arrive in third place,” Tuchel said.
“He is our Mo Salah, he is our [Virgil] van Dijk, he is our [Kevin] De Bruyne. He is simply that player, he is our Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.
“He is that guy who makes the difference and if you only have him for 40 per cent then it is a huge problem. Given that percentage, it is maybe a miracle that he produces results.
“It puts everything into perspective as I saw Liverpool without Van Dijk last season and they struggled heavily. You see the difference. N’Golo is our key player and we need him on the pitch.
“It’s hard to live with. It’s important for him to be there and to have the rhythm. I think he played okay but he can play so much better. But when was the last game he started? It was weeks ago. So he constantly starts getting rhythm, but once he has that, there comes a little injury and he’s out again.
“Last year, in the last five matches of the Champions League, he got the [man of the match] trophy. This guy who gets man of the match in every Champions League game, he is only here for 40-something per cent of the matches. This is huge for us.”
Meanwhile, Chelsea were once again left to rely on their wing-backs to provide attacking impetus against the Foxes, with Reece James claiming his eighth league assist of the season by teeing up Alonso’s goal.
8 – Reece James has made eight assists for Chelsea in the Premier League this season; the most by a player 22 or under in a single campaign for the Blues since Eden Hazard in 2012-13. Crisp. pic.twitter.com/9xXH1S3pqy
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) May 19, 2022
James has now created twice as many goals this season as in his previous two Premier League campaigns combined (four assists in 56 appearances), while the Blues also racked up 20 shots to Leicester’s two over the course of the contest.
Christian Pulisic was guilty of missing Chelsea’s best chance to claim a second-half winner as the hosts created 1.64 expected goals (xG) to the Foxes’ 0.09, and while Tuchel was content with his team’s performance, he was again left to bemoan their lack of cutting edge.
“We were the better team and deserved to win,” he added. “We didn’t allow any chances and got punished by a shot from outside the box. We created enough to win, didn’t allow transitions and chances for Leicester. So, I am fine with the performance.
“It’s a bit of a broken record, we did not take what we deserve. We needed a goal from a wing-back and an assist from a wing-back.”
Chelsea will round off their Premier League campaign with another home match on Sunday, when relegated Watford travel to Stamford Bridge.
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